Okayafrica Exclusive: Diplo + Chief Boima Debate The Politics Of Tropical Bass
DJs Diplo and Chief Boima debate music & politics over (under) a slice of pizza
Okayafrica sat down recently with Diplo and Chief Boima–two leading lights of the movement/moment called tropical bass, global bass or global ghettotech (depending who you ask) to chop it up in earnest about the politics of dance music in 2012. If you’re unfamiliar with the names, Wesley “Diplo” Pentz is best known these days as the man behind Major Lazer, as well as the producer of hits for M.I.A. (“Paper Planes”) Chris Brown (“Look At Me Now”) and Beyoncé (“Run The World (Girls)”). But his real claim to fame is as dance music’s trailblazer-in-chief, having been instrumental in breaking sounds like Baltimore club, UK grime, Brazilian baile funk and Angolan kuduru to audiences outside their respective strongholds. Boima “Chief Boima” Tucker has been a key movement-person in his own right, carving a niche for himself at the crosshairs of African and African-American music with his DJ sets, remixes and documentation of DJ-driven culture of every nation through his contributions to the Ghetto Bassquake blog.
Their interaction, appropriate to the digital eco-system that sustains tropical bass, started with a twitter beef. Scratch that. It started with “Global Genre Accumulation,” a thoughtful piece that Boima wrote on the Africa Is A Country blog, which referenced a twitter beef between Diplo and New York DJ Venus X Iceberg. Venus–in the course of an ongoing flame war–charged Diplo of recording her set at a Ghe20 G0th1k party and told him “ur the new Columbus” and “U CANT HIDE BEHIND POSTMODERNISM ANYMORE. ITS TIME TO PUT AN END TO YOUR REIGN OF TERROR WHITEBOY” …among many, many other things. (There is a pretty comprehensive record of that conversation as well as statements from both Venus and Diplo over here). It’s important to note that the main focus of Boima’s piece was a DJ Mag list of top DJs that, he argued persuasively, reflected a Eurocentric and elitist worldview. Diplo was not on the list. But Boima did use him as an example of a DJ with elite, globetrotting access and mentioned the Venus incident—something Diplo (understandably) took objection to.
Which is where Okayafrica comes in. Having pointed followers of @okayafrica to Boima’s essay, we came under some twitter-fire from Diplo ourselves. That minor outbreak of beef (veal, really) created, however, the opportunity for a more um, fruitful dialogue. Since I consider Boima a friend and have had the chance to build/interview with Wes on a number of occasions, I took the whole thing as an excellent excuse to get them to sit down with each other, air out their differences—and more importantly, go pretty deep on the issues at stake in the current globalization of underground music, which parallels economic globalization in ways that are both powerful and sometimes troubling.
What follows is a record of that meeting, which took place in Diplo’s Manhattan hotel room late last year. Dive in—and for further assigned reading check Boima’s set at Spoek Mathambo’s release party in New York tonight, come to the roundtable discussion on Tropical Music that DJ Rekha and I are moderating tomorrow afternoon at the Experience Music Project pop conference (2:15-3:345pm Friday 3/23, featuring Boima, Venus X Iceberg and tropical music scholars Wayne Marshal and Erin MacLeod) or if you’re in Miami catch Diplo with AraabMuzik at the Mad Decent block party.
STATS: Okay, I want a good, clean fight please. Wes, in your own words, can you identify what you didn’t like [about the way you were portrayed in Boima’s piece]?
Diplo: For me, I love when people write about whatever work I’m doing, even if it’s critical…But the one thing I didn’t like about your particular article [addressing Boima], that was kind of center point for your whole argument, is that I was recording Venus’s set, which is something that she said…[but] which for me is just ridiculous. Like if we’re all DJ’s I don’t understand how someone could think I could record their set.
I was always friends with Venus, from the very beginning, until one day she just twisted on me. We were friends–we played the block party together, with Maluca, two years ago. It was a cool vibe, and that was the first time I met her. We actually portrayed Ghe20 G0th1k on our site, on Mad Decent. Paul Devro’s really good friends with her…and I’m still really good friends with Total Freedom. We’re huge fans of his, we post his mixes all the time, so I was always cool with these kids.
Boima: One thing I wanted to say, just to clear up, I know you felt attacked in my piece, but I don’t really feel like I was attacking you specifically. I know I used you as an example, and that’s because of your visibility. Because for a lot of up and coming DJs you set the standard of how to go about this thing. Even more problematic than you are people who are less successful, recreating these things without even thinking about them, I don’t know if you see it but the whole soundcloud scene…you have all these people who are just like, Yo: cumbia, bass, whatever–they just sample a bunch of stuff completely out of context. On both ends we have to try to set the standard for people that we’re working with, and for people who are following us.
Diplo: Well, the most important thing is, I want you guys to have a real precise perception of what I do, and how I make my money, and how I affect people’s lives, and how I represent people. Because it’s really important.
I went to school and Temple University, for anthropology and film. And I worked with this guy Jay Ruby, he was like one of the main ethnographic filmmakers from Temple, and I hated this guy so much! He wrote a book, about the ethics of representation? His whole thesis was like, as an old 50-something white guy, he can only represent his culture. He was making Caribbean documentaries and documentaries about France for years and years, and at one point he denounced the whole thing, and shook up the world of ethnographic cinema because he said he could only represent people like him. I thought it was a valid point. In some ways, I agree with him. But in the world we live in now…it’s not the same world they had when they made Nanook of the North. Like, everybody’s connected now. I go all over the world, I mean I’m going to Cambodia and Indonesia and I’m producing records with these kids now, and they’re better than me. Everywhere I go, there’s not this world of exoticism that you guys think exist. It’s not this weird world where I’m going to tribal places and taking photos and collecting music.